First COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Michigan

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Two Michigan hospital systems administered the first COVID-19 vaccinations in the state on Monday, injecting the Michigan-produced Pfizer vaccine into front-line workers. 

Ann Arbor-based Michigan Medicine and Spectrum Health's Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids were the first to begin vaccinating workers in the state — the beginning of a massive inoculation rollout in Michigan expected to expand to other hospital systems in the coming days.

"It was momentous to see this happen for the first time," Spectrum President and CEO Tina Freese Decker announced at a Monday afternoon press conference.  

The Grand Rapids-based health system, which has 14 hospitals in west Michigan, received its first shipment of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine shortly after 9 a.m. and administered its first vaccination just hours later at 12:04 p.m., Freese Decker said.

"We're making history right now," Freese Decker said. "As we all watch this occur, it's amazing, and it gives us such great hope to know what's coming forward in 2021."

Michigan Medicine, the University of Michigan health system, received a morning shipment of 1,950 doses, officials said. Spectrum expects to receive nearly 5,000 by the end of the week.

"It’s a great day that we’re starting to vaccinate," said Dr. Sandro Cinti, clinical professor of infectious diseases at Michigan Medicine, and one of the co-chairs of the health system's COVID-19Task Force.

"This is the beginning of the end of this terrible virus." 

Spectrum and Michigan Medicine each vaccinated five health workers on Monday, and plan to ramp up vaccinations starting on Tuesday. Each vial of vaccine must be thawed and diluted to make five doses. 

Dr. Marc McClelland, a Spectrum pulmonologist who works with COVID-19 patients in intensive care and on ventilators, was the first person in Michigan to receive the vaccine.

McClelland appeared at Monday's press conference along with Yvette Kamana, a nurse who was also vaccinated Monday. Both work in direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

"I'm constantly inspired by colleagues and co-workers who have stepped up to the plate to take on this very stressful job," McClelland said. "Hopefully, this vaccine will bring cause for hope and optimism."

McClelland said he didn't worry about being first to get the vaccine because thousands had been vaccinated before him in clinical trials across the United States and other countries. 

He added that "physically speaking, I feel fine at this point. I don't have any symptoms or side effects. It's been very well scrutinized. The FDA has recommended it is safe. It's a wonderful opportunity."

The health system learned Sunday night that the shipment was on its way, said Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan. 

Marc McClelland, pulmonary and critical care physician, 46, of Ada, Michigan, receives the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 from nurse Carol Robinson at 12:04 p.m. at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids on Monday, December 14, 2020.

"It literally felt like we were receiving a package from Xbox or Best Buy. We received a tracking number last night," Elmouchi said.

Video provided by Spectrum showed Pharmacy Technician Doug Bowman unsealing a medium-sized box packed with dry ice and removing two small trays of the vaccine.

"This experience has been trying emotionally as a health care worker," Kamana said. "We see a lot of patients who are critically ill. I consider it a blessing to be one of the first persons to be getting a vaccine because it means we're getting somewhere."

Monday was the culmination of a nearly year-long global race to develop a vaccine to combat the pandemic, which has killed more than 300,000 in the U.S., and 1.6 million around the world. 

At Michigan Medicine, the first employee vaccinated was Johnnie Peoples, a registered nurse with Survival Flight, Michigan Medicine’s critical care transport program. 

The others who received vaccinations Monday were a registered nurse in the Emergency Department, a physician in Infectious Diseases, a physician in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, and a resident physician in Internal Medicine.

The first shots come just days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration moved with unprecedented speed to grant emergency authorization for the Pfizer vaccine Friday evening, one day after an FDA advisory committee recommended it for approval. 

Michigan health authorities have already begun rationing initial doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine as the New York-based drug company began making shipments Sunday from its Portage manufacturing facility.

The shots also come as the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported Monday that the state has now tallied 437,985 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 10,752 related deaths since the virus was first detected in March.

“Our frontline essential hospital workers have gone above and beyond to save lives — including stepping up today to receive vaccines," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement.

COVID-19 vaccines started arriving and being administered Monday at Michigan Medicine. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive in Michigan, appears alongside University of Michigan President Dr. Mark Schlissel.

"And we have residents across the state doing their part to eradicate the virus and keep our communities safe. ... That’s why it’s so important that we all do our part by masking up, practicing safe social distancing, and avoiding indoor gatherings where the virus can easily spread from person to person. This is a historic day in Michigan.”

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan's chief medical executive, on Monday noted it will take many months before the vaccine is widely available.

“The arrival of this vaccine in Michigan signals that the end of this pandemic is near," she said in a statement. "However, it will take several months before we are able to have enough vaccine to widely distribute it to the general population."

Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System officials hope to get the vaccine perhaps as early as Tuesday, spokesman David Olejars said Monday.

"We are expecting our vaccine sometime between tomorrow and Thursday, with vaccinations to begin thereafter," he said. 

The VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, meanwhile, anticipated it would receive a shipment on Monday or Tuesday, but as of mid-afternoon Monday, one had not yet arrived.  VA hospitals have their own allocations, separate from the allocations given to the states, according to Brian Hayes, a VA public affairs officer in Ann Arbor. The VA Ann Arbor Health System is among 37 VA sites to receive initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

"We're expecting to start administering vaccines by Thursday or Friday," Hayes said. "Our first allotment is going to be about 975 (doses). Per CDC recommendation, we're going to do our frontline, high-risk staff first, and then we're going to start administering to our high-risk veterans."  

Elsewhere, Trinity Health expects its first shipments to arrive at four of its hospitals between Tuesday and Thursday, spokeswoman Laura Blodgett said. 

The eight-hospital Trinity Health Michigan system includes five hospitals with the Saint Joseph Mercy Health system in Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Howell, Livonia and Pontiac, and the three-hospital Mercy Health system, with hospitals in Grand Rapids and Muskegon.

Twitter: @kbouffardDN